Meridian Star

March 4, 2013

Keep raising the bar

Lauderdale County Fire Service continues upward trend in fire protection coverage

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     The overall goal of the Lauderdale County Fire Service is to continue the upward trend in providing the best possible fire coverage across the county.

    To that goal, LCFS coordinator Allan Dover says the service is making strides in providing fire protection coverage over an area of 640 square miles.

    "We are adding new equipment and more firefighters with a set goal of bringing some insurance ratings down in a couple of areas while maintaining those others that have achieved good ratings," says Dover. "It is a constant battle but one we did a really good job of last year and one we will continue this year."

    The LCFS is made up of 16 departments who volunteer their services from 21 stations. There are about 350 volunteer firefighters on the LCFS roster with the latest class of 13 firefighters becoming certified recently. Dover said these departments have more than 70 pieces of major firefighting apparatus that makes up the service's inventory. Among those pieces are state of the art fire engines, brush trucks and tankers designed to handle everything a fire service could face.

    Dover said South VFD welcomed a new fire engine, the only new engine brought into the inventory last year. It was a piece of equipment sorely needed to replace an aging engine that could not do the job required in today's fire fighting environment. Dover said South VFD's new engine is important because like its sister departments, much of their work is done on the interstate.

    Lauderdale VFD received a new piece of equipment, a vacuum tanker, that can make the difference in saving a home and watching it burn to the ground. The tanker, much safer to operate and drive that many of the makeshift tankers volunteer fire departments were burdened with over the years, has the added advantage of loading and then offloading huge amounts of water at unheard of rates.

    Toomsuba also took possession of another important piece of the firefighting puzzle in the arrival last year of a new brush truck the department was able to acquire. In rural areas, grass and brush fires are a major call answered by volunteers. The importance of getting to the fire quickly so property and possessions are kept to an absolute minimum cannot be overstated. Brush trucks go where no other firefighting apparatus can and in many cases have stopped a brush fire into becoming a forest fire.

    "All three of those pieces of machinery have a role to play in the fire service," said Dover. "A department needs those there basic machines in order to be a versatile and efficient firefighting force."

    But nothing, no engine, no suit of turnout gear or ax will work without the volunteer behind the wheel, holding the hose and entering the burning home to look for someone who may be hurt.

    Without pay, and many times without much in the form of a pat on the back, volunteers answer the call to service no matter the weather or the time of day or night. There is nothing they won't do. If they are asked, they will go.

    After storms they are in the roads with chain saws cutting away downed trees. They are searching homes and property for possible victims who may need medical care.

    They are checking on their neighbors.

    Traffic accidents are responded to with engines and emergency responders who are trained in first aid. Grass fires that turn into brush fires that turn into forest fires are just another challenge for which the volunteer is well trained. Search and rescue, such as that of the boy who went missing on a cold night in a swamp who was found by volunteers after they slogged through freezing waist deep water, or the somber search of a drowning victim on the Chunky River recently, are yet other examples of their work.

    There is community support and assistance in educating homeowners on how best to prevent home accidents and fires.

    "The people are the heart and soul of any fire service and when you are talking about a volunteer force then you are referring to a lot of selfless people who give their time, energy, and sometimes their lives, to help others," said Dover.

    Reality struck close to home for the LCFS when they lost one of their own in 2011. Larry Gressett Sr., (Alamucha 6), drowned on Feb. 17, 2011, when he jumped in a pond on Sam Hurt Road in Toomsuba to try and save a man who was drowning.

    The department received support from across the nation at the news a firefighter had gone down in the line of duty. It was an example of how these men and women, who work full-time at vastly different jobs, come together at the sound of a tone to help those in need.

    Dover says the LCFS retention and recruitment of firefighters has gone well. He says residents will see improvement as more and more of the personnel become certified in the coming year. He says there is still more than 40 square miles of the county near Meehan and NAS Meridian that is not covered by any department. He wants that to change with the advent of two new stations.

    "We have a couple of areas that are carrying a class 10 rating and we want that down so we have some work to do," Dover says. "I firmly believe, given the dedication of the people we have in the LCFS, that will happen."